Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dan Malloy reopened an old wound this week in GOP rival Tom Foley, launching a new ad alleging Foley’s business practices ruined a Georgia textile mill and cost thousands of workers their jobs.
But whether the Bibb mill controversy will yield the same results for Malloy as it did for Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele – Foley’s chief rival in the Republican gubernatorial primary, remains to be seen.
Foley, who launched his own attack spot earlier this month challenging Malloy’s record as mayor of Stamford, had to scramble back in early August to respond to Fedele, who aired his Bibb commercials less than two weeks before the GOP primary.
“There’s no disputing it had a negative impact,” Republican State Chairman Christopher Healy said of the Fedele spots, calling them “unfounded” and “inaccurate.” But “it was only problematic,” he added, “because Tom wasn’t able to respond as quickly.”
Foley, who watched a 35-point lead over Fedele whittled down to 8 points days before the primary, was hit hard by ads that charged he earned millions of dollars in his final years owning the plant, which he held from 1985 through 1996. The Bibb plant, located in a former in Muscogee County that has since been incorporated in Columbus, Ga., filed for bankruptcy in 1996.
Foley’s management company, NTC Group, received about $20 million in payments from The Bibb mill during its final five years. Foley said these were payments for payroll, human resource and other services rendered. But Fedele argued these excessive management fees really represented big profits for Foley and weakened the plant such that two years later, under new management, it closed and thousands were left unemployed.
Malloy stole a page from Fedele in the new commercial released this week, featuring live comments from several former employees who denounced the Foley.
Foley has insisted, both in his ads and in other public statements that the job cuts he ordered were necessary to keep the facility open while he owned it.
“Tom Foley is lying,” Jean Carr, one of five “former Foley employees” listed in the Malloy ad, said early in the commercial.
“I lost my job and my health care,” added Chuck Redden, also listed as a former employee. “It was all about money.”
Though the workers’ comments are designed to tug on viewers heart strings, Healy said “I think most people understand what went on here,” he said. “The facts are on Tom Foley’s side.”
But former Democratic State Chairman John F. Droney Jr. said Foley has become “the new Gordon Gekko.” And like the fictional corporate raider portrayed by Michael Douglas in the 1987 movie Wall Street, the Greenwich Republican who insists he can close out a $3.3 billion state budget deficit entirely with spending cuts, will see his public image topple further. “The Bibb mill thing is very compelling,” Droney said. “There certainly are a lot of people speaking up.”
Foley took aim at Malloy’s record as a chief executive earlier this month with a commercial challenging the Stamford Democrat’s 14-year tenure as mayor of that city, which ran through 2009.
Citing state Labor Department records, the ad charges that jobs are down by 13,000 in Stamford since peaking in 2000. Malloy “rose taxes every year he was mayor,” the ad’s narrator states. “Debt rose by $340 million. … Now Malloy says he’ll governor Connecticut lust like he ran Stamford. That’s a bad idea.”
Though tax rates did increase during all eight years of Malloy’s tenure when the city was not going through a property revaluation phase-in, the Malloy campaign said Tuesday that the average annual hike of 2.4 percent stayed below an average inflation rate of 2.7 percent.
And according to the state Office of Policy and Management, Stamford’s per capita debt stood about 50 percent above the statewide average. But it also was one of just 12 communities in October 2009 that held the highest possible rating by Moody’s Investors Service, one of three major Wall Street credit rating agencies.
Malloy repeatedly has touted his successes in Stamford, and Healy said that given that, Foley’s ads raise fair points. “Certainly Dan Malloy’s record is open for interpretation,” he said. “I think what Tom’s trying to say is that he understands the minds of businessmen and knows what they need to create jobs. Dan Malloy’s biggest problem is he’s wed to one of the key players in the budget battle, state employee unions, who have everything to lose if Tom Foley is elected.”
But Droney said Foley’s claims won’t resonate with voters, who watched job losses pile up all across Connecticut in the last recession. And there’s nothing unique about a major urban center struggling with property taxes when overall state aid has grown minimally over the past decade, he said.
“I’m kind of amazed,” Droney added, “because these ads by Foley don’t really say anything.”